23.10.14

Tuscan Rabbit Ragu with Pasta

 
I lived in Calgary for a lifetime and one of my favourite neighbourhoods was Bridgeland, little Italy. At any time you could drive in and find wild rabbits hopping in the back lanes. Folklore has it that some escaped from the warrens kept by the Italian immigrants and continue to raise their young in this friendly area.

Little Italy has the most amazing gardens brimming with tomatoes, herbs, zucchini and any variety of vegetables. The grocers bring in grapes and much wine is made in these modest homes.

This easy as pizza pie lasagna uses fresh pasta sheets layered with rabbit ragu before being crowned with your favourite grated hard cheese and fresh Parmesan. I pop it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to get that nice carmelization.

Tuscan Rabbit Ragu with Pasta
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 (3-lb) rabbit
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse gray sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Heat oil heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot and add onion, carrots and celery. Saute until translucent. Add to preheated slow cooker.

 Add sage and rosemary and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add rabbit and cook, stirring occasionally, until rabbit is no longer pink on outside, 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 1 cup, 10 to 15 minutes. Add tomatoes, sea salt, and pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, 5 to 10 minutes.

Cooks' notes: ·Ragù can be made 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. ·

Ragù can be made with 1 1/2 pounds boneless veal shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces, in a 6-quart wide heavy pot. Add veal to pot in place of rabbit and, after cooking until no longer pink on outside, add 4 cups water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 1 cup and veal is very tender, about 1 1/4 hours. Proceed with recipe.

11.10.14

French Macarons for my Niece's Wedding

The entire family was delighted when my niece, Julie, announced her engagement. Although I had not met her fiance I had heard nothing but glowing remarks. The engagement was announced in the early summer and the wedding slated for October.


I was secretly delighted when she asked if I could make the cake. But, eeek, the thought of making a wedding cake scared me silly. I don't know the first thing about working with fondant and making fancy icing decorations. My terse reply went something like this  "I would love to make your wedding cake but I don't do cakes. How about something like a macaron tower or croquembouche?"

Looking back on that moment perhaps I was a little narrow minded. I had visions of a three tiered wedding cake with icing roses and basket weave embellishments. If I had given it more thought I could have made a totally acceptable luscious layer cake.

But Miss Julie knew a good thing when she saw it and right away agreed to the macarons. And I, having made them successfully once was more than confident I could pull it off.

I had visions of macarons garnished with rose petals and gold. I had visions of perfectly matched sizes of pretty pastels of delicate flavours. I had a vision of this amazing tower that would be the highlight of the entire banquet hall. The fact is I had underestimated the decorating prowess of Miss Julie but even more truthfully, I had over estimated my skill at making macarons.

It was one of my most humbling cooking experiences. Yes, I could make a batch of acceptable macarons but making 200 perfectly matched, perfectly garnished, perfectly tinted and perfectly flavoured macarons gave me a whole new appreciation for Ladurée.

I can tell you with complete honesty that I have about 100 macaron halves and perhaps the same volume of broken cookies sitting in my deep freeze.

If I have learned anything from this experience it is how to make a macaron. I am hereby documenting what I have learned so that if I ever again have the opportunity to make them for a banquet sized crowd I can quickly refer back and not make the same mistakes again.

Let's begin with the characteristics of a perfect macaron. The macaron should have a crusty exterior and a soft, slightly chewy interior. It should be delicately flavoured so as not to taste too sweet. The filling should compliment the flavour of the cookie. The filling should be soft but not runny so as to make a mess but not firm that the delicate cookie is crushed when you apply it. But the crowning feature of a perfect macaron is its feet. Yes, that little bottom of the cookie that is full of tiny holes and a lacy rim is called its feet. If it does not have feet, it is a flop.

Here is the recipe I used. It is the compilation of many recipes that I researched. And to answer some of your questions in advance, yes, you must weigh the ingredients. I will also give you volume measurements but if you are making any quantity it is much faster to weigh the ingredients. I even weigh the egg whites and at times I do split the egg white. It is not that difficult. I use my fingers. You can beat it slightly with a fork to make it easier to pour but at the end of the day my fingers worked just fine.

The egg whites must be at room temperature and aged. They should be left on the counter at room temperature overnight or up to two days.

Another critical step is to bake these on a double baking sheet. By this I mean that your baking sheet needs to be placed atop another same sized baking sheet. The air space between the two baking sheets will buffer the intensity of the heat from the oven so the cookie does not brown on the bottom.

As for the temperature and the timing, I'm afraid that you have to listen to your oven. Don't feel like a dummy if you don't get it right the first time. I made three batches in a row that failed. Why? Because I was, first of all, not paying attention to the consistency of my batter but also because I was not listening to my oven.

If you overcook the cookie it will brown and be dry. If you undercook the cookie it will fall. Yes, a perfectly shaped macaron will fall if it is undercooked. That has to be the most demoralizing experience, to see a perfectly formed macaron fall. What does it look like when it falls, you ask? Well those nice little feet that formed will no longer be there. It will be flattened.

Touch the cookie while it is baking. You can judge the crispness of the top and the doneness of the centre by whether or not it jiggles. If the centre does not jiggle then it is done. At this point turn off the oven, open the door a few inches and let it sit there for 30 minutes. This will ensure the cookie will not fall.

But let's back up a step. The consistency of the batter is very important. Most recipes tell you to beat the egg whites to the stiff peak stage. I found that soft peak was better. At the stiff peak stage the batter will be too dry.

Also, we are trained that when we incorporate dry ingredients into a meringue we are to be very careful not to deflate the egg whites. That is not important with macarons. After the last portion of dry ingredients is added it is necessary to continue hand mixing until the batter flows like magma.

One last tip is about removing the macarons from the parchment paper. I found it was better to peel the paper from the cookie rather than lifting the cookie from the paper. If that doesn't work then just slip the pan into the freezer for 20 minutes and the cookies will easily release.

Basic Macaron Cookie
225 g icing sugar
125 g almond flour
110 g egg whites
30 g sugar
pinch of salt

Place icing sugar and almond flour in your food processor and pulse to mix.

Beat egg whites until foamy and then gradually add sugar and salt. Beat until soft peak stage. Add flavourings and beat only until incorporated.

In three portions add icing sugar and almond flour mixture to the egg whites. Fold in with a rubber spatula. There is no need to worry about deflating the egg whites. In fact, mix until the mixture resembles molten lava. It should flow and not hold its shape.

Fit a piping bag with a 1/2 inch round tip. Pipe the batter into 1-inch rounds about 2-inches apart onto parchment lined baking sheets. Rap the baking sheet on the countertop, on all four sides. This does remove some air bubbles but it also flattens the cookie. Let sit about 30 minutes before baking.

Bake at 325 F for about 10 to 11 minutes. Rotate after the first 6 minutes. Turn the oven off after the full cooking time, open the door slightly and leave the cookies in the oven for about 30 minutes.

Makes about 20 cookie sandwiches.

Volume measures for Basic Macaron Cookie

2 1/3 c. + 1/2 tbsp. icing sugar
1 1/4 c. + 1 tbsp. almond flour
3 egg whites
3 tbsp. sugar
pinch of salt

An important note when using volume measures is that you must sift the ingredients before measuring. It is not necessary to whiz in a food processor when you have sifted the ingredients.

Okay, now let's do some troubleshooting by looking at these pictures.
These are definitely undercooked. The feet have formed, the top is crusty but it is too soft on the interior to maintain its shape. Perhaps the oven is too hot.

These are a lot like the previous picture but they are even more browned on top. Definitely the oven is too hot.
These are perfectly cooked but they cracked. They are also too tall. Feet could be better. The batter is too thick.
This is what the batter looked like to get the product in the previous picture. It is too thick and the air bubbles didn't escape. It is too thick and there are little peaks. If you continue to beat by hand it will become thinner. You can see a bit of water under the parchment paper. One recipe said that if you put a few sprinkles of water under the parchment paper the cookies will release easier. It doesn't work.
This is the consistency you are looking for. It is runny enough that air bubbles can escape and they will make a nice flat cookie.

Flavour is key otherwise this cookie will be all about sugar when in fact, it should be all about flavour. I remember my first macaron. I had to spit it out because it was so sickly sweet. The Parisian rage had hit Calgary but the maker didn't take into consideration the importance of flavour. Colour is the easy part.

Hazelnut - simply substitute ground hazelnuts for the almond flour. Make your own by toasting the whole hazelnuts in a 350 F oven for about 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let them cool 5 minutes before rolling in a clean tea towel. Rub them and the skins will fall off. Place the hazelnuts in a food processor with the icing sugar and process until finely ground. The perfect filling for hazelnut is a milk chocolate ganache.

Rose - this is easy. Add rosewater or rose extract to the egg whites as they are being beaten. Go light with this because it can be overpowering. Start with a little, like 1/2 teaspoon. You can always add more. I used a touch of red colour paste with the egg whites. A great filling is a white chocolate ganache with a touch of rosewater. I had no luck making a white chocolate ganache so I used an Italian buttercream with a touch of rosewater.

Raspberry and Passionfruit - I found a superb product by Fresh As. The fruits are freeze dried and burst with flavour and colour. One tablespoon of the powder added to the egg whites was ample. I added a touch of paste colour to the egg whites. I bought this product from Duchess Provisions in Edmonton. They are online and deliver by mail. I used the flavour in an Italian buttercream filling.

Cognac - this was the suggestion of Deana at LostPastRemembered blog. It is divine. I used a couple of tablespoons of good quality cognac in the egg whites. I used a dark chocolate ganache as filling and also added cognac to the ganache. I did find that the chocolate overpowered the macaron. Perhaps I would use an Italian buttercream flavoured with cognac next time.


Dark Chocolate Ganache

    * 5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
    * 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
    * 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    * 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
    * 3/4 cup sugar

Place chopped chocolate, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Bring cream and sugar to boil in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Carefully pour hot cream mixture into bowl with chocolate. Let stand 1 minute. Whisk until melted and smooth. Chill ganache until thickened and spreadable, about 1 hour. Whip for a lighter ganache.

Milk Chocolate Ganache

    * 1 cup heavy cream (250 mL)
    * 1/2 pound milk chocolate, finely chopped (250 g)

   1. In a pot over high heat bring the cream to a boil.
   2. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate.
   3. Stir rapidly until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is a smooth, even colour.
   4. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
   5. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
   6. Whip the ganache in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks form.
   7. Do not over whip, as the ganache may break.
 
Italian Buttercream

2 egg whites
1/3 c. + 1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into cubes

In an electric mixer bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat the mixture, whisking often, 3 to 5 minutes, or until it feels warm and sugar has dissolved.

Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer and whip warm egg mixture on high speed using the whisk attachment until stiff and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the butter, a few cubes at a time, and continue to mix until all the butter is thoroughly incorporated. Add any flavourings and refrigerator for one hour or until it becomes firm. The buttercream can be kept, covered and refrigerated for up to one week.

8.10.14

Baked French Toast


This French Toast can be put together the night before and refrigerated to bake in the morning. It is a great recipe any time you have guests or a busy time like Christmas or a wedding. I made it in this casserole dish but if made in a baking pan there would be more crispy bits for everyone. 

Baked French Toast
I used pannetone, an Italian Christmas bread, in this recipe. It is slightly sweet and made a wonderful baked breakfast. However any slightly sweet and stale bread will work just as well. A shallow baking dish allows lots of crispy topping bits for everyone.

Butter, for greasing the pan
8 eggs
5 c. whole milk
1/2 c. sugar
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
Day old bread such as French bread, cinnamon buns, brioche
1/2 c. walnuts or pecans
1/4 c. maple syrup

Generously grease a 9x13-inch baking pan with butter. Tear bread into chunks or cut into cubes and evenly distribute in the pan. Use enough bread to completely fill the pan. Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla. If you are using an unsweetened bread you may want to increase the sugar.

Cover pan tightly and store in refrigerator, overnight preferably.

Before baking top with coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans and a drizzle of maple syrup. Preheat oven to 350 F and bake, uncovered, for 45 – 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

2.10.14

Chanterelle and Chevre Quiche


Quiche were at their height of popularity in the 1980's. Every lunch menu featured at least one choice of quiche. Then crustless quiche made their debut. This was possibly the beginning of the gluten-free craze. But you cannot deny that a quiche makes a satisfying lunch or brunch. These individual pastries can be served nicely on a plate with with a green salad or fresh fruit.
Fresh chanterelles are the star of this dish. Dried mushrooms would work equally well. Pea shoots make a lovely garnish.
Chanterelle and Chevre Quiche
1 2/3 c. all purpose flour
3 tbsp. finely grated Parmesan
1/4 c. warm water
pinch of salt
1 egg
5 tbsp. olive oil
3 oz. fresh chanterelles, coarsely chopped
3 small green onions, chopped
2 large eggs
2/3 c. heavy cream
6 tbsp. crumbled chevre
2 tbsp. finely grated Parmesan
1 tsp. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Put the flour, salt and Parmesan into a bowl. In another bowl whisk egg, olive oil and warm water. Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix well until a dough forms. Knead lightly on a floured surface and form into a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Divide pastry into six portions and roll out each to a thin circle and line six 4-inch individual flan tins. Prick the bases with a fork then line with foil and bake for 10 minutes, until beginning to colour around the edges. Remove the foil and bake for a further 5 minutes.
While the pastry is cooking, prepare filling. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté chanterelles.
Remove pastry shells from the oven. Place equal amounts of chopped green onion, sautéed chanterelles and chevre in each. Beat eggs and cream together and pour over mushrooms, then sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes until the filling is set. Serve warm.

30.9.14

Stilton Stuffed Baked Pears


  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. (2 ounces) crumbled Stilton cheese
  • 1/4 c. dried cranberries
  • 1/4 c. chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 8 peeled Bartlett pears (about 3 3/4 pounds)
  • 1/4 c. apple juice 
  • 1 tbsp. port

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Combine sugar and butter in a small bowl, and stir until well blended. Add cheese, cranberries, and walnuts. Stir well.
  3. Cut off stem end of each pear just above where the fruit begins to widen and reserve top. Remove core from stem end, and scoop out about 2 tablespoons pulp from each pear half to form a cup, using a melon baller or spoon. If necessary, cut about 1/4 inch from base of pears so they will sit flat. Place the pears in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Fill each pear with about 2 tablespoons sugar mixture, and replace top on each.
  4. Pour apple juice and port into baking dish. Bake pears at 375 F for 30 minutes or until tender. Plate the pears and pour the juice and port mixture into a pan. Reduce to about half and spoon over pears. Serve warm.

28.9.14

My Cookie Cutter Obsession

I have no idea when it happened. It wasn't while I was in university in the College of Home Economics. I was a health freak before it was fashionable. Cookies did not touch my lips unless they were gall darned good.

I have never been a cookie freak but now I have a cookie cutter obsession. I am a search for a round cutter with a scalloped edge for cutting butter tart crusts. It is an older style and I am having no luck.

This set is my newest purchase and I found them in an antique shop. I love the rectangular cutter with the fluted edge. It speaks the perfect sugar cookie to me. A perfect sugar cookie with a sugary top.

Above it is a donut cutter. As a kid on the farm we didn't have this luxury. My mom made doughnuts by cutting them with a drinking glass and the hole was cut with a thimble. I am not a huge donut fan but it is nostalgic. The round fluted one means nothing to me but it was a package deal.

I would love to see your favourite cookie cutter. If you love cookie cutters visit Monique at  La Table de Nana . She has many amazing ones. I would like to see her collection one day. If you are up to it everybody, why don't you post a comment with a picture of your favourite cookie cutter? I would love to see all the ideas and hear your stories.

Marjie at Modern Day Ozzie and Harriet you must have a stash of cookie cutters. And what about you Roz at La Bella Vita Cucina or Valerie at More Than Burnt Toast. My there are so many great food bloggers. You must have a favourite cookie cutter.

This is my Canadiana collection. I had planned to make the large maple leaf for Canada Day but that didn't happen! Next year.

These two sets are my  miniatures. Autumn and Christmas miniatures. I like to use them to cut vents in pie crusts or to make pie crust decorations for a pie top.

I bought one of these for a friend who raises bees. Of course, I had to get one for me, too. You can see how much it has been used!
Cookie cutters for doggie treats. I have only used the bone shape.

I had an obsession with stars a few years back. I liked to make a variety of sizes for Christmas gift giving. I would decorate sugar cookies all in white with icing, glitter and dragees. Star of David of course would be with white or blue glaze.
These are my regular sized Christmas cookie cutters. As with the stars, I had a need to have a mitten cookie cutter. Did I use it yet? I don't think so. This year.
This is my most frivolous cookie cutter. And least practical. I used this with children. Not a good idea. The handle of the teapot is so thin that it breaks. This is merely a decoration.
And who doesn't need a set of simple circular cutters. They are my most practical and most used.